Stockton: Water play, kayaks and yacht Airbnbs

July 4, 2016

Some of the many boats that are berthed at the Village West Marina, in Stockton, Calif., on June 8, 2016. Stockton's many marinas are a perfect jumping off point for all sorts of aquatic fun, from houseboating to kayaking, waterskiing, personal watercraft, and otherwise paddling about.

My wife and I just checked into a small yacht. Overnight. It’s something I’d never considered doing before, but it suddenly made all the sense in the world.

The yacht in question, an Airbnb rental, was docked at the Village West Marina in Stockton, Calif. The plan was to have a Friday night meal on the water at the Garlic Brothers restaurant (try the house gumbo — it’s fantastic) and get back to the boat to lounge and watch the sun go down over the water.

Three hours later, we were still laughing with a couple tables full of locals sitting nearby. Live music, the warm breeze off the water, and people passing fruity drinks almost gave this relaxed Delta marina a tropical air.

There are more than a dozen marinas clustered around the southern end of the California Delta in Stockton, a river town where ships you may think are too big for the Delta can be spotted steaming through, nevertheless. Historically, this region has always been a good jumping-off point — for Gold Rush miners and, now, for commerce headed for the Central Valley and southern Sierra. It’s also a logical place to get in and around the water by kayaking, water skiing or simply lazing around a boat deck, filling your lungs full of fresh air. And, we discovered, you can be a Delta boat owner for even just a night, thanks to Airbnb, which has an entire page devoted to boat lodging.

It was well after dark but still before closing time, when we finally made it back down the dock to our accommodations: a 46-foot luxury yacht named the Island Oasis.

It was easily the cleanest — and nicest — boat I’ve ever been on, with a master bedroom (in which I had my best night of sleep in weeks), another two-bunk bedroom, a six-seat dinette, kitchen, TV and VCR and two heads — which is nautical parlance for "restrooms." There was also a paddleboat and stand-up paddleboard.

The owners offer a variety of cruises, too. We didn’t book that in time, but you can — just make reservations several weeks ahead, not spontaneously, like we did.

Much of our Saturday morning consisted of just sitting on the Island Oasis’ bow, watching the holiday boaters roar out into the Delta and soaking up the sun and breeze. We had breakfast at Bob’s at the Marina, a ‘50s-flavored breakfast and lunch spot next to Garlic Brothers — try the chili cheese omelet.

Then it was off to downtown Stockton on our quest for a little urban kayaking. The area definitely has its own vibe.

We walked along the pathway lining the Downtown Stockton Marina on a gorgeous Saturday afternoon over Memorial Day weekend, watching the breeze ruffle the sail-shaped shades hanging high above the docks — easily the most artistic and visually attractive boat berths I’ve seen on the Delta.

The water was calm, and a couple restaurants on the waterfront did brisk lunch business. But other than a few joggers, there were almost no people around and few boats in the water — in stark contrast to our morning marina scene a few miles away — despite it being a beautiful holiday weekend.

Clearly, Stockton is a well-kept secret.

I finally found a couple of guys who looked like city rec workers, sitting in a golf cart in front of a big equipment shed. I told them I’d heard kayak rentals were available in the area — was I wrong?"

"Nope," said one of the men, pointing a thumb backward. "We got them right here."

We’re told that when summer really kicks in, this area will be lively, but on this particular day, it was very quiet indeed. The men generously loaded up the cart with two kayaks, took us over to the boat ramp and out we went.

We’ve kayaked before, but certainly not when we had most of an urban waterfront to ourselves. The juxtaposition of river recreation to large buildings and a baseball stadium was fascinating — especially as the minor league Stockton Ports were playing a game on the other side of the water. It was fun paddling around while listening to the crowd and the announcer.

We paddled up and down a few side channels, seeing a fascinating variety of boats in the main harbor. In addition to all the modern maritime vessels, there were a couple that could have passed for old pirate ships. All in all, it was a low-pressure couple of hours for amateur kayakers. Even if there had been many sport boats about, they’d have to slow down to kayak-pleasing speeds around the marina.

Our guys came back to the ramp when we were done, plucking our vessels from the water and giving us a history lesson on the area on the way back. Stockton’s waterfront is terribly busy during the weekend during the summer, they said, we were just early in the season. But it’s also obvious that there’s going to be a lot of potential in this place where downtown meets Delta.

Perhaps another yacht outing is in order.

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IF YOU GO

Stockton Downtown Marina: 445 W. Weber Ave. and 333 Tuleburg Levee, Stockton; 209-462-4200; www.visitstockton.org. Kayak rentals are available from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily and cost $10 per hour.

Village West Marina: 6649 Embarcadero Drive, Stockton, www.villagewestmarina.com. Details about the Island Oasis can be found at www.islandoasisdeltacruises.com. Prices vary for cruises. We paid $286 for an overnight stay.

Nearby eats: Garlic Brothers Restaurant at the Village West Marina offers a wide variety of food and drink, including seafood, pizza and lots of salads. There’s live music on weekends, so if you want to converse, get there early in the evening and get a table outside. Details: 6629 Embarcadero Drive, Stockton

For breakfast, Bob’s at the Marina has everything from chicken-fried steak and eggs to chili cheese omelets. There’s also a yummy lunch menu that includes burgers, hot dogs, chili and fish tacos. Details: 6639 Embarcadero Drive; www.bobsatthemarina.com

 

 





 


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